When The Charity League of Atlantic County started over 80 years in 1932, it began as an organization invested in supporting women and children in the Atlantic City area.
Today, it is still an organization focused on raising money in Atlantic County and keeping that money in Atlantic County, all for women and children.
How is it done? With sequins, felt and beads. Lots of sequins, felt and beads.
Despite a name that embodies “do-gooders” from a bygone era, The Charity League is a women’s service organization with progressive roots -- help provided to women by women, focusing on raising and keeping the funds in the community.
“Who would have better understood the needs of women in the community in 1932, other than other women?” said Dot Johnson of Margate, member since 1972.
Every year for the past several years, this organization has raised over $150,000 by designing, producing and selling sequined pins, ornaments, tree skirts and stockings. Most of the money is raised through The Annual Christmas Mart, an event held for the past decade at The Greate Bay Country Club.
Who is buying all these handmade holiday items? Women, often at $20-$25 for pins and ornaments, and sometimes anywhere from $90-$250 for the sequined felt card holders, table runners and tree skirts. Many of these items are ordered one year in advance to provide the members of The League with the opportunity to painstakingly hand sew hundreds of sequins to each item.
In the past seven years, The League has donated over $1 million to seven nonprofits, in addition to the ALS Foundation. While ALS is not one of their main local nonprofits, a member’s husband was diagnosed with the disease as a young father and the membership felt this was something they could do to support the family.
“Tom Cittrone died last year from complications of ALS, and The Charity League was proud to have raised thousands of dollars on behalf of his family,” stated Andrea Worrall, President.
The organization helped to found two nonprofits along the way, which are still supported with major contributions to their operating budgets -- Child Federation in Pleasantville and Atlantic City Day Nursery in Atlantic City. These are agencies that are vital to bolstering families in the community, according to Worrall.
“Child Federation provides immunization and health referrals to services for many young children in the area,” she said. “The Day Nursery is one of the first child care centers in Atlantic City, and definitely the oldest still in operation. They working families of Atlantic City rely on it for affordable and high quality child care.”
Many people know about The Charity League because of the Mart, which has occurred every year since 1946. It is also recognized as the organization that every year produces a uniquely different, limited-edition Christmas pin. But not everyone realizes where that money goes, and how it is leveraged to support women and children in Atlantic County.
“The Charity League has supported us with hundreds of thousands of dollars through the last 15-20 years that they have provided the agency with grants,” said Beverly Gilbert, past executive director of The Women’s Center, “TWC uses that money to support women returning to the workforce with job readiness training, interview clothes, and resume preparation.”
Not content to only provide grants to local nonprofits, each agency must agree to have a member of The League sit on their Board of Directors as a condition of receiving the monies. This ensures that the organizations’ missions are in alignment with The League, and also gives members an opportunity to be part of the solution in the community.
“We have members who sit on the Boards of The Covenant House of Atlantic City, The Atlantic City Rescue Mission, Family Service Association and The Donny Fund,” said Worrall, in addition to The Women’s Center, Child Federation and Atlantic City Day Nursery. Worrall is a board member of Family Service Association of Absecon.
All of this money is raised and donated through 100% volunteer hours -- there are no paid staff of The Charity League of Atlantic County. Instead, The League relies on the hard work and innovative talents of members.
“There are over 50 actively engaged members,” said Vice President Karen Clark. “Plus another 50 or so ‘retired’ members who still support the work we do. Every hour they provide, every dollar they raise is put back into the communities we live in.”
Erin O'Hanlon is a member of the Atlantic City Bureau of The Citizens Campaign's City Storytellers, dedicated to telling the stories of citizen leadership and showcasing civic innovation. Read more from Erin on the Atlantic City Bureau blog, AdaptiveAC.